Film Festival Preview
by Randi Spires
Forget the rites of spring. Fall is fast approaching and the rites of autumn are upon us.
One of these is the annual Toronto International Film Festival. This year’s fete, the 26th, unrolls September 6th to 15th, 2001.
Besides the usual selection of new films from Canada and around the world, this year’s festival takes a special look at the cinema of Scandinavia, including Iceland, in a program called "Nordic Visions". It is a chance to see recent work by Billie August (Best Intentions) and Jan Troell (The Emigrants), as well as some of their less famous collegues. Those who grew up loving Erich Kästner’s "Emil und die Detektive" (Emil and the detectives) can re-visit their childhood or introduce others to its pleasures by viewing Franziska Buch’s film of the same name. Buch has moved the story from its original 1928 milieu to the high-tech world of the 21st century.
This is Buch’s first feature film. She is part of a new generation of up and coming German language filmmakers, many of whom are women. Besides Buch there are four other young women from German-speaking countries whose first features can be found at this festival. "Mein Stern" (Be My Star) by Valeska Grisebach tells the story of two very young lovers (14 years old) who believe love and life can remain stable. But change is all around them, especially in the flurry of building and re-building happening in present day Berlin, where they live. "In Den Tag" (The Days Between) was directed by Maria Speth. Like Grisebach she focuses on youthful, although not so juvenile, romance and all the missed connections and miscommunications endemic to it. "Lovely Rita" was written and directed by Jessica Hausner. It tells the tale of a rebellious, mercurial teenager prone to outrageous pranks and other wild behaviours. Her sensibility contrasts with her repressed resentful, all too proper family. In "Mostly Martha", written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, the title character is a lonely, repressed workaholic. She is forced out of her shell when her sister dies in an accident and she takes over the care of her young niece.
Hungarian-born director István Szabó (Mephisto Sunshine) returns to the Second World War for another exploration of the complexities of human morality. "Taking Sides" investigates the actions of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the renowned music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. After Hitler came to power he chose to retain his position. Yet he was no Nazi and not exactly a collaborator either. The film is structured around exchanges between Furtwängler and a post-war American investigator played by Harvey Keitel.
A number of films co-produced by Germany and other nations are in the line-up this year. Among these is "Malunde", co-produced with South Africa. It is the work of another feature by a woman, Stephanie Sychold. She also wrote the script, which follows the relationship between a demoralized working-class Afrikaner, and a young black street kid who hooks up with him.
Another German production, but made in English, is "The Quickie", written and directed by Sergei Bedrov. It has been described as a kind of La Dolce Vita for the 21st century. But while the members of Fellini’s Roman high society were spoiled and vacuous, Bedrov’s promise to be more menacing. His wealthy subjects are members of the Russian mafia, living in Santa Monica, California. A less worldly film is "Samsara" by Indian-born director Pan Nalin. It depicts the sexual and spiritual journey of a young Buddhist monk. Expect lots of luscious Himalayan scenery in this one.
Monika Treut (Seduction: The Cruel Woman, My Father Is Coming) has long been known for her edgy, transgressive films which usually deal with boundary-pushing aspects of human sexuality. This year with "Warrior of Light" she moves into totally new territory, by going to Brazil to document the work of Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, founder of the Children of Light Project. For decades Mello lived the privileged life of an artist but when eight street kids were murdered by the police in 1993 that all changed. An outraged de Mello began concentrating on the feeding, housing, educating and of comforting the street kids of Brazil.
Michael Haneke is probably the Austrian filmmaker best known internationally. Haneke (The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, The Moor’s Head) is back again this year with "The Piano Teacher". Based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek, "The Piano Teacher" looks at the life of a very accomplished and very proper conservatory instructor. Underneath her calm, respectable outward exterior is a woman seething sexually and emotionally.
Every year the spotlight section zeroes in on a little known (to Canadians) yet significant director. In 2001 the focus is on Ulrich Seidl, an Austrian documentary director known for pushing the boundaries between documentary and fiction film and between public and private space. In "Dog Days" he skewers the suburban world of housing tracts and strip-malls, revealing an underlying moral decrepitude and repressed violence. In "Models" he follows the lives of several young, blonde models showing their loneliness, their sex-lives and the professional and private blurring of the boundaries between private and public life. "Mit Verlust ist zu rechnen" (Loss Is To Be Expected) contrasts two villages only two miles apart on either side of the Czech-German border. One is prosperous, the other mired in dire poverty. "Tierische Liebe" (Animal Love) takes an unkind look at how people relate to animals and use them to fulfil their emotional needs.
For those interested in experimental films, the festival is introducing a new program called Wavelengths. Five German-language shorts are being screened among numerous cutting-edge poetic films from around the world. "Nebel" (Mist) by Mattias Müller combines home-movies and found footage with the poetry of Viennese writer Ernst Jandl. Christian Rossner has two films in the festival. "Nipkov TV" is an optically printed film, this one in cinema scope. It must be seen through 3-D glasses which will no doubt be provided to all program attendees. Also on tap is "Exposed" by Siegfried A. Fruhauf, another optically printed movie. To give the genre perspective the festival is also screening Kurt Kren’s 1960 classic "Trees In Autumn".
Speaking of classics, fans of silent films and German expressionism can take in a special presentation of the F. W. Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece "Nosferatu". "A Symphony Of Horror", based on the novel by Bram Stoker thousands of vampire movies later, the film retains its hallmark status. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing the original score by Hans Erdmann, parts of which have recently painstakingly reconstructed, will accompany it.
For more information on film screenings, tickets and the program book call (416) 968-FILM or go to the box-office in person. It’s in the north-end of the Eaton Centre on the first floor.
Happy movie going.
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